This here is an excellent beat 'em up. And I'm a man who likes his beat 'em ups let me tell you. From the first Final Fight to the countless brawlers on the Neo Geo to the randomly appearing offerings from IGS. I've played through a huge number of these games...hell, I even beat Kung Fu on the PC. All of this is simply a means through which to tell you: trust me when I say that this game is very, very good.
Her Knights is the second game of this type for the GP32, but it blows Dungeon and Guarder out of the water (why call it dungeon and GUARDER when only one character can block? odd...). First of all, it pushes a HUGE amount of very large sprites onscreen, some of which take up almost 40% of the screen's height. And it's not uncommon to see 10-15 enemies onscreen at once (especially when dealing with zombies). The backgrounds vary from nice watercolor style forests to high-res castle towns, and have decent variety. Each character animates with KOF-like believability, but they lack facial detail. This can be a bit disconcerting at first...only one of the characters has visible eyes. They look nice overall, but some facial expression would have been a nice addition.
But the graphics are in no way the defining point for this game. Her Knights gameplay is what sets this title apart. Each main character has between 5 and 10 basic moves which they can perform, which is impressive in itself. But what really makes the game shine is the combo system; it has the deepest combo system I've ever seen in the genre, even moreso than Guardian Heroes (which I'll mention again later). Juggling, infinites and all, the game just feels good. The combos are satisfying, the moves are brutal, and the enemies are tough. Here's an example of the extensive amount of moves a character can have. Junon Aspedion, long haired bishounen of the royal knights, begins battle with a broadsword. With this sword he can perform an: overhead slash, upward strike, lower strike, straight jab, ground sweep, a rising uppercut as well as the usual 4-hit combo atack. That's already enough, but when you press A+B buttons simultaneously, he switches to a short sword, with which he can uppercut, jab, short overhead strike, and perform two different autocombos. That's 11 moves which can can all be used in different, very intuitive combos. An example: straight jab, low strike, upward slice to launch the enemy into the air, then straight 4-hit combo, overhead slash to attack as they fall, then downward strike while they're on the ground. By now your opponent is *very* dead, but hey, you've had some fun!! Her Knights has a real fighting game feel to it, which was in fact Byulbram's intention. Were I to compare the game to an extant fighter I'd have to make an analogy to Samurai Showdown! 2. The system is very deliberate and powerful in that way.
Each character has a different weapon as well; spear, feet&fists, knife, shield, katana, magic. Magic use in this game is limited in that magic depletes your own life bar. This is to keep you from overusing projectiles, and to get you more into the actual fighting. There are four spells in the game, and only one main character can use them. But some other characters can use something like chi to produce projectiles or energy attacks. Each character that can do this has their own personal variation on these chi projectile arts. The last variation of 'magic' is selectable at startup. After choosing your character you're given a choice of three different modes: one gives you three 'pills' of invincibility, which last for a limited time. The second gives you three 'pills' which knock all enemies down and fully raise your health. The last option keeps your health rising constantly. Once you beat the game you get a 4th option which is a combination of all three. At the beginning of each level you recieve an additional pill, up to a max of five.
This is useful, because enemies are plentiful and relentless. What's more, they're often quite strong. There are several normal enemies which can kill you in two hits if you're not careful. Luckily blocking and dodge abilities have been given to each character. Also, whenever you kill an enemy, they drop an item, which will either heal you, increase your time, or raise your stats. Even with all of this in place, your best defense is often a good offense. Zombies for instance cannot be killed, so you must constantly knock them off of their feet while running towards the stage's boss. Incidentally, boss battles are rarely one-on-one. Often a boss character will have several minor fighters to back them up (mages, warriors, zombies and archers are common). All of this serves to make the game very challanging, but at the same time inspires interest in learning the game's combo system. Since control is perfect, and there's a practice mode, you can learn without too much trouble if you put some effort in. As an aside, most beat 'em ups allow you to change direction with the joystick. But since there are so many enemies in this game, it is never advisable to turn your back on them. Thus Byulbram has added an extra step; you must push the left shoulder button to change direction. Actually this took a little while to get used to but proved to be invaluable. A minor related gripe is that when knocked down, your character will stand up facing whomever hit him/her. When there are a lot of enemies smacking you about, it can be difficult to get your bearings and face the way you want to face. The enemy AI is another slight problem. Once they start attacking, they can be merciless. But many will not attack you until your character is within a certain proximity. This can be used to your advantage, but sort of detracts from the fighting game feel, where the enemy is constantly advancing. This is actually found in most beat 'em ups too.
The biggest problem with the game is the sound. Due to the unfortunate nature of the GP32 development tools as this time, almost all GP32 music comes out ubercompressed, and sounds have pops and limit problems. It's a common ailment for the system, and I understand the reason why it happens, but it's bothersome nonetheless. Also there is no music in most of the story bits (likely to save space...Her Knights takes up all but 45k of its 16 meg card), which is a shame. The music is well composed though, and gives the game the right mood. I can't say the same for the bland generic sounding effects. There are only a few sword and attack sounds and they're not particularly impressive.
The difficulty is high at first, but once you beat the game the first time on normal you will have fewer problems. The reason is that when you beat each of the 4 difficulty levels above easy (normal, hard, very hard, crazy hard), you get new playable characters. These new characters can sometimes be more powerful than your original stock of five fighters, and useful in defeating higher levels. If you beat the game without seeing a gameover screen (you have infinite lives), you will get another character, and if you beat all scenarios, yet another. In fact, you can eventually play as every character you meet in the game - just like Guardian Heroes again. This rounds the roster out at an impressive 25.
Now about those scenarios I mentioned. Her Knights, like many beat 'em ups of recent times, is a multipath adventure. There are six different paths which lead to five different endings. This, coupled with the additional characters, makes for a game worthy of several replays. And once the level editor is completely translated into english, you'll be able to construct your own levels/story paths and upload them to your game.
This is the game to buy if you're into Guardian Heroes, Final Fight 3, or beat 'em up games in general. More to the point, this is the game to buy if you have a GP32, period. It will provide you with several hours of enjoyment; the story is good (silly, and similar to Guardian Heroes, but good), the action is fast and the difficulty is substantial. Seriously impressive for a game made by two guys. Take my advice as a true fan of this genre...buy this game.